Transparency Wins Customers' Trust

Love them or hate them, transparency and authenticity are becoming pillars of a successful branding strategy.

“We’re not for everyone.”
Believe it or not, that’s Kraft Foods’ new slogan for Miracle Whip salad dressing. Meant to fan the viral flames of social media, it’s created quite a fuss in the world of marketing, advertising, and brand management, and it’s certainly piqued my interest.
In case you haven’t seen the television commercials, or read about them on one of the dozens of social media sites that have discussed the campaign, the condensed version is that Kraft filmed average people (albeit exceptionally camera-friendly individuals) and a few fringe celebrities reporting that they either loved or hated Miracle Whip. It seems no punches were pulled: naysayers called the product “spreadable disappointment”; vowed, “I could never date someone who liked Miracle Whip”; and alleged, “If you love Miracle Whip, you’re incapable of love.”
Others damned the product with faint praise, my favourite being, “I can’t stand Miracle Whip, but thanks to the way you advertise, it’s now on my shelf — next to the Old Spice.” I don’t know about you, but that last comment gives me a whole new perspective on this iconic spread.
Here’s the company line: “Some people love us. Some people hate us. And that’s cool. What’s not cool is people who’ve never tried us or don’t even know who we are. So we’re setting out to change that.”
But does this honesty and openness about the shortcomings of a product that’s not universally loved work in terms of sales, or does it unnecessarily highlight the fact that a great many people abhor it? If you go by the old adage, “There’s no bad publicity as long as they spell your name correctly,” in terms of sheer social media exposure, Kraft has done well.
{advertisement} The packaged-food giant’s YouTube channel registers 50,982 lovers of Miracle Whip against just 2,963 who hate it (as of late May). But has it converted anyone? Some marketing pundits say the campaign increases loyalty in those who are already enamoured with the product, while drawing the attention of those who haven’t tried it. Others insist negativity is negativity, which has no place in a marketing campaign, unless it’s negativity about the competition (think car advertisements).
Marmite, the British yeast extract spread, has been around for 100 years and was probably the first brand to go down the path Miracle Whip is treading. The company’s website still allows visitors to enter an “I love it” or “I hate it” portal where they will find information suited to their perspective. The “hate it” side is particularly honest, and at one point announces, “It was during the 1900s that Marmite emerged as a mainstream torment to society. Previously it had been consumed only by those with a strange liking for unpleasant taste sensations.” The bottom line is that this unusual promotional strategy worked for Marmite, which saw a consistent growth of five per cent per year over the following five years.
This leads me to ponder the trend toward transparency and authenticity in marketing. Think about your company’s marketing for a moment. Is it completely honest? Do you tell it as it is, or are you economical with the truth? Perhaps you exaggerate a little, or as Shakespeare put it, “gild the lily.”
Ask yourself: can being painfully open about the pros and cons of your product or service pay off — if you handle it properly? I think it can; it certainly worked for Miracle Whip and Marmite, although I suppose they had a lot they needed to be honest about!
Every time consumers tune in or log on, they’re bombarded by marketing and branding messages. But they are better educated, more knowledgeable, and, more importantly, increasingly connected by the click of a mouse or tap of a touchscreen to thousands of “friends.” Rather than agonize over whether this is the time to become transparent and authentic in our marketing, perhaps the more appropriate question is: can we afford not to be?
The Internet is rife with product reviews by customers, whether for a camera or a hotel. Consumers are checking out products and services long before they ever step into a store. There’s no place to hide for companies wishing to tell anything but the absolute truth about the features, advantages, and benefits of what they sell.
If you want to embrace this new marketing concept, a good brand to emulate is Buckley’s cough and cold medicines. Its slogan says it all: “It tastes awful. And it works.”
Get back to the roots of what you are and what you stand for. When you get right down to it, authenticity in marketing is all about practising what you preach and being totally clear about what it is that you do best. What you promote and what your customer experiences need to be in complete harmony, or the disconnect will damage your integrity. What’s more, customers will stop believing in your messaging.
I’m reminded of the film Miracle on 34th Street. I have watched this 1947 classic many times. It features Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, the Macy’s store Santa, who happily tells customers that
they will get what they’re looking for at Gimbels, across the street, if Macy’s doesn’t have something
in stock or is offering it at a higher price. The store manager is furious, of course, and threatens to
fire poor Kris, but lo and behold, the customers are amazed and impressed by this generosity of spirit, this honesty and transparency, and subsequently become even bigger fans of America’s largest department store.
Staying true to who you are, to your authenticity, will endear you to consumers; Apple, Levi’s Jeans, and Ikea stand up as good examples, in contrast to companies that are struggling with the authenticity of their image, such as Starbucks, which some say has become so large, corporate, and diversified that it has lost its personal relationship with customers.
Marketing today is increasingly participatory; it’s no longer a one-way street. Instead, it’s about engaging prospects, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders around you, your company, and your products and services. The more you embrace and even encourage the stories people tell about your brand, the more word about you will spread. Use humour, honesty, and openness, and, most importantly, be entertaining. Your brand will have its lovers and haters, fans and critics, but only if you manage to rise above social media’s sound and fury.